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Posts Tagged ‘indie RPGs’

I found some really interesting ideas in the playtest version of Caoimhe Ora Snow’s current Kickstarter project: The Queen’s Cavaliers RPG.  I backed the project so that I could download the playtest document and get a look at the mechanics.

The Queen’s Cavaliers is a role-playing game that evokes stylish and heroic swashbuckling tales like Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (but with a “clockpunk” twist that frankly is of secondary interest to me).  I’ve tried, as both a player and a GM, to create swashbuckling action in my D&D games in the past — swinging from chandeliers, harrowing fights in a ship’s rigging, duels atop runaway carriages! — tried and failed.  I don’t know if it’s the rules or the culture, but D&D favours a stand-and-deliver style of combat that would put Errol Flynn to sleep.

A quote from The Queen’s Cavaliers’ Kickstarter page:

TQC’s combat system is flexible and designed to be entertaining, with more options than simply doing damage from round to round. Want to swing on a chandelier to gain advantage over your foes, or recite an epic poem to build style points? These are all valid and effective strategies in TQC.

So I wanted to get a look under the hood to see how the game achieves its claims.

In TQC, a successful combat roll results not in hit-point damage but in a number of Success Points.  You then spend those points according to the skill that you were using.  For example, the Feint skill (each cross is a Success Point):

feint

 

I like the idea that you can achieve anything from gaining the upper hand to disarming your foe, or a combination of things, with a single roll.  Combat seems focused on making creative, cinematic manoeuvres and getting your opponent to yield.  Style Points can be spent to add dice to future rolls, and players are encouraged to narrate how the extra die allows them to succeed with style and flair, just like those unshakable Musketeers.

Overall, the resolution system is pretty detailed compared to most indie games — I might put it on par with D&D — but it’s very well organized, self-consistent and easy to understand.  Best of all, I can really see myself swinging from the chandeliers!

-J

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All four of us in my gaming group are serious, serious gamers, we like the same types of games, and we get along great.  But despite all that, each of us brings very different games to the table.  We all take turns choosing the game and GMing.  Mike is very plugged in to the online indie gaming scene, and brings us the new hotness.  Ryan is on a lifelong quest to discover or build the perfect story-gaming system.  Peter’s tastes run to the crunchy, and he loves superhero games.  And me, well…

When I look at the history of the games that I have nominated and run, there are both expected and unexpected trends:

I’m attracted to settings more than systems.  I know that system is vitally important to the gaming experience, but when I read a new game and go “hell yeah I want to play that,” it’s usually because the fictional content (or “fluff”) has grabbed me.  I find this especially when reading the GUMSHOE games: Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents, et al.  I don’t even particularly like the GUMSHOE system, but these games have evocative, detailed settings that are ripe for drama and adventure.  Setting-rich games are kind-of a problem with my group, though, which tends to prefer games with a low barrier to entry (i.e. not having a lot of setting material to memorize before the game can begin).  When I run a game, I tend to spend a lot of time developing setting and backstory content, and then trying to figure out how I’ll introduce it all during play (without boring exposition scenes).

But system IS important.  I like systems that aren’t too crunchy; I don’t want to have to keep flipping through the rulebook during the game.  A system should have explicit mechanics for driving the story forward and in unexpected directions.  I want to be surprised, even as the GM.  We end up mixing and matching systems and settings quite a bit.  For example, I ran a game in the Elric! (a.k.a Stormbringer) setting using the Sorcerer and Sword system (with great success).  But paradoxically, reading setting-free system rulebooks (e.g. Fate Core) leaves me cold.  I need some sets and costumes with my rules, even if I’ll never use them.

Sorcery, ghosts and demons.  These are favourite genres of mine that I keep coming back to.  I feel like there’s something about forbidden knowledge and Things That Should Not Be Named that I haven’t successfully invoked at the gaming table yet; but I can’t say exactly what that is.  I’ll keep exploring these genres until I do.

I just finished my turn in the GM’s chair, so my next opportunity to pick the game is probably a year away.  Still, I’m always reading new RPGs and supplements, and of course I want to play just about all of them.  Maybe looking back at my previous selections will help me to narrow down on what I’m really looking for.  Or maybe I’ll decide to try something completely different.

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How could one design an RPG that requires no (or minimal) GM prep, and that develops a screenplay-like or novel-like story through play, including interesting revelations and plot twists (things normally planned ahead by the author/GM)?

Perhaps a game could do in reverse what authors do: instead of planning plot twists and then revealing them, the players could invent plot twists during play and then fill in the backstory to explain them.  The backstory develops in parallel with game events.  Startling revelations don’t have to be surprises that someone prepares ahead of time; they can be realizations that occur during play.

I’m thinking of an Indie game: “system matters.”  In other words, the game mechanics should be designed to achieve that specific goal.  What would those mechanics look like?

Maybe all that’s needed is a critical mass of mysteries and characters.  During play, elements of the story evolve or appear randomly.  The players seize on the ambient and emergent elements, and make connections cooperatively.

Example:  The PCs question an NPC regarding one of the mysteries.  The GM rolls to determine whether the NPC was involved or not, was a perpetrator or a victim, is helpful or evasive.  Perhaps there could be a pile of cards instead, with suggestive 8-ball-like prompts for the GM (or the whole group), like “is keeping a secret,” “is desperate to tell their story,” “is in danger,” “is taking orders from someone else,” etc.  After the scene, the GM (or all the players) decide what that NPC’s backstory really is, and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into the mystery and other ambient story elements.

Similarly, when PCs visit a location, randomly determine what they’ll find there: a trap, foes, an event in progress, a stash, evidence.  Relate it to an extant story element or two.

The sweet spot of this game is after a few scenes, when the players start riffing organically: “Oh!  Maybe the old lady is Orville’s grandmother, and she’s protecting him, and that’s why the bloody clothes were in her shed!”  “Yeah, and that makes Orville the werewolf!”  “Or he just thinks he’s a werewolf!  Maybe the anti-psychotics we found at Jennifer’s house were his!”  “Oh!  A secret romance between Orville and Jennifer!  It all makes sense now!”  “So, we need to find out how the deputy is involved, and where Jennifer is now.  I still think the weird lights on the hill have something to do with all this…”

Caveat: not all initial story elements will end up getting tied into the resulting narrative by the end of the game.  That’s okay.

Is there a game that already does this?

-J

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The excellent game Sorcerer has been central to my gaming experience and tinkerings lately.  A few loosely-related notes:

A Sorcerer Tweak?

We love Sorcerer.  When it landed in the late ’90s, it was revolutionary.  Compared to D&D, it was Completely Different.  It was the first (?) RPG that really put the focus on “Story Now!,” the phenomenon of story creation as a real-time group activity (in contrast, the D&D paradigm is “Story Before”: the GM creates the story alone, and then brings it to the table and runs the players through it).  But…

Sorcerer is now the oldest game in the Story Now! category.  Since Sorcerer landed, there have been 10+ more years of great indie games that have built on what Sorcerer started.  Perhaps Sorcerer could benefit from an upgrade, a renovation, an incorporation of some of the refinements that have emerged from the forge (ahem) of indie games in recent years.

Things We Love About Sorcerer:

  • Humanity – what do you need so badly that you’ll risk your soul to get it?  This score is the heart of the game.
  • Kickers & Bangs – the players initiate the story, the GM puts pressure on things, the story continues to come from the players.
  • Relationship maps – delicious complexity in NPCs without pre-planned “encounters”.
  • Demons – dangerous allies that are NOT your friends.  The rope by which the desperate protagonist hangs himself.

Aspects Of Sorcerer That Could Stand Some Refining:

  • Conflict Resolution (“Combat”) – we still spend a lot of time going “how many dice do i get?”. – there’s a lot to track: next-action damage, lasting damage, victories carried over, damage penalties, etc.  This needs to be simplified.
    • maybe just one kind of damage instead of “next action” and “lasting”.  Reduce the damage table to something simpler.
  • The Statistics of The Dice-Pool Mechanic – do they suit the kind of game we want to play?
    • a big dice-count advantage rarely translates into a large number of victories.

We (my gaming group) want to give Sorcerer a serious think-over.  Can we make the game even better while preserving the best aspects of the original?  No, let me re-phrase: can we make the game more suitable for the kind of experience that we want at the table?

-J

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